This article will understandably ruffle some feathers but hear me out. The recent viral video of a monorail door remaining open on virtually the entire ride through the Epcot loop has sparked some serious debate online. Nearly everywhere you looked on every article, the responses were pretty similar: “the monorails are outdated!”. Which may be true, but long before this open door incident (and others where pieces have fallen off of the train and into a parking lot) there have been some looming problems with the Magic Kingdom monorail not being able to keep up with demand.
Before we get to reality, let’s talk about the nostalgia of the Disney monorail system. Walt Disney was obsessed with various types of transportation systems. When the monorail opened at Disneyland in 1959, it was completely revolutionary and a source of transportation of the future. Unfortunately, the monorail barely caught on in any major cities around the globe and is more often than not, seen as a novelty than a source of actual transportation.
The exception, of course, being many major airports around the globe offering some sort of monorail service to and from gates and parking garages. And of course, the Magic Kingdom monorail system. It’s important to understand why the Magic Kingdom monorail was built in the first place. Disneyland was being overrun with businesses just outside the property that could be seen from within the park. If Walt wanted to build another park, he wanted to make it so those outside influences wouldn’t affect your time inside Disneyland.
Thus, Walt Disney World was born and the Magic Kingdom was designed as a destination across a lake where you could also have hotels attached to the park. It was hailed as genius modern planning development. Which, at the time, it absolutely was. In 1971, to create a small “city” with its own modern transportation system was revolutionary and the Magic Kingdom monorail was perhaps the star of the entire property.
That was back when park capacity and daily attendance is roughly half of what it is now. On peak days today, the Magic Kingdom can see swells to more than 75,000 guests (as a rough estimate). While not all are arriving via monorail, every transportation system gets clogged in order to transport that many people to and from the park. Often times, monorail wait times can reach half an hour or more, just in one direction. That’s (as a conservative estimate) an hour out of a tourist’s day. And we’re not counting the amount of time it takes to board the tram in the parking lot.
Now I know many of you are fuming at the thought of a Walt Disney World without a monorail. It’s iconic. It’s tradition. It gives you all the feels. Me too. But let’s take a step back and really look at how it affects people taking a vacation. Waiting in line to just get to the platform, then being crammed in like sardines. Once you arrive, if you’ve left something in your car, you can kiss another hour or more of your day goodbye. In the day and age we are living in now, time is money.
Let’s assume that the Magic Kingdom gets another major expansion within the next 15 years. An entirely new “land” featuring shops, restaurants, and attractions similar to New Fantasyland. Can the monorail keep up with that demand? Not unless the system is overhauled. Sure, you still have ferryboats and busses if you really have to, but even those are difficult and adding those to the dock isn’t enough.
So why hasn’t the monorail been updated since 1989? A lot of it comes down to budget and realistic expectations on demand. There is no admission charge to ride the monorail, thus it is a little more difficult to justify upgrades since it doesn’t directly generate revenue. However, you can absolutely say it does affect the bottom line as resorts along the monorail route in the Magic Kingdom have higher booking rates and generally are more expensive. This doesn’t *necessarily* translate on paper to dollars for the monorail itself though.
The other issue to contend with is, how do you slowly incorporate new trains on an existing line? Currently, there isn’t really a time of year where the Magic Kingdom is slow. You need that capacity pretty much constantly, while some periods are clearly busier than others. To lose capacity and possibly take the entire system down to upgrade beams, blocks and power systems simply isn’t an option. Ferryboats and busses couldn’t possibly carry the load.
For the record, I’m not suggesting that the monorail shut down completely. I am saying that it is being crushed by the ongoing operating demand of the Magic Kingdom. Full trains, park hours from 8 am until midnight (or later with Extra Magic Hours) and no slow times of the year make it extremely difficult to upgrade the current system. Not only for safety and overall wear and tear but for capacity as well.
Did the folks who originally designed the transportation system foresee these issues when they designed the property nearly fifty years ago? Probably not. But it’s the reality of an ever-increasing issue that isn’t going to get any better unless the issue is tackled sooner than later. Your thoughts?
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